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Scouting Quarterbacks

Breaking down the traits of a good prospect. Greg Gabriel

February 15, 2011
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Scouting quarterbacks looks like it can be fairly easy but in reality it can be a frustrating experience. There is so much more to it than just looking at stats. The college game is very different than the pro game. The vast majority of college offenses are some form of the spread, where the quarterback usually reads only half the field on a given play. What looks complex can be very simple when compared to what a quarterback is asked to do once he gets to the NFL.

Where is the starting point? That’s a good question and I’m sure that it varies from scout to scout. One of the first things I look for is if the prospect is capable of playing in the offense my team is running. Does he have the physical traits to play that offense? Most NFL offensive coordinators want size. The ideal player would be in the 6-3 to 6-5 range with a good degree of athleticism. Athleticism is more than speed; it’s the player’s quick feet, agility and body control. Brett Favre was far from being a fast guy but his quick feet in the pocket and his “feel” for pass rushers enabled him to keep plays alive. Quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet are highly valued.

Colin KaepernickICONNevada QB Colin Kaepernick

More so than size and athleticism is the intangibles and what many call the “it” factor. Some have “it” and some don’t. “It” is a combination of things, starting with instincts. To be a successful quarterback in the NFL you have to have outstanding instincts. He has to anticipate and understand things extremely well. Intelligence is important, but in my view instincts are even more important. There have been many great quarterbacks through the years that didn’t have great natural intelligence but their instincts for the game were off the charts. Another part of the “it” factor is leadership and competitiveness. Most of the outstanding quarterbacks are great leaders and extremely competitive people. They hate to lose at anything. They have to have the feeling and have to give their teammates the feeling that they can get the job done. He has to be in total command. The shy, meek personality may have the physical traits but he just isn’t going to get his teammates to believe in him. That player will fail.

A few years ago, there was a quarterback in the draft that was highly touted by a lot of teams because of his physical traits. During the interview process, I talked to the player about his college career. His career started slowly but by the time he was a senior he had very good stats and won a lot of games. He told me that as an underclassman when he wasn’t as successful, he would walk around campus in a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up because he didn’t want people to recognize him. Right away I knew this player was not for me. He didn’t think of himself as a winner so how were his teammates going think he was a winner? This player was drafted in the first round but failed and there is not a doubt in my mind it was because he didn’t have “it.”

When looking at the physical traits, I look at a lot of things. Arm strength is, of course, very important but not the most important. If you’re looking for a quarterback to play in Chicago, Buffalo or New York, arm strength can be more important because of weather conditions. Players with weak arms are going to struggle in those places. Still, some players with average arms have succeeded because they spin the ball well. What do I mean by spin? When the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hands I look for a ball that has a tight spin and doesn’t flutter. A tight ball has a chance to “cut” through wind, but if a quarterback throws a loose ball the wind will take it all over the place.

Next, I look at the player’s release. Does he have a tight, compact delivery where he gets the ball out of his hand quickly or does he have a long windup? How is his footwork at delivery? Is he a quick stepper or a “long strider” into the throw? If I determine that he has a poor delivery, then I ask myself if it is something that can be corrected with coaching. You can work for months trying to correct a player’s delivery and then in the heat of battle he reverts back to his old form.

What’s difficult when scouting quarterbacks today is that you seldom see them take snaps from under center. They are always in the shotgun. You might think that because he is a quarterback he can of course take the snap. That’s not always the case. It’s a learned trait that has to be practiced. A few years ago at the Senior Bowl there were so many fumbled exchanges the first day of practice, both teams had to go to a spread-style offense in order to play the game. All six quarterbacks had played in spread formations and had taken very few snaps from under center. It was almost comical to watch. It’s imperative to work out a quarterback prospect who played in a spread formation in college.

Accuracy is a key component when evaluating a quarterback. Accuracy can be defined by completion percentage. but in my view it’s completion percentage and ball placement. In the college game, the window to complete a pass is usually fairly big; in the pro game it’s a lot tighter. Quarterbacks with good ball placement skills will consistently put the ball in an area where the receiver has a chance to do something after the catch. You also want the ball to be placed where the chance of interception is minimal.

When watching game tape of quarterbacks you also have to look at more than just his ability to make throws. You have to study how he performs in different situations. Does he make the big play when he has to? How many times does he make a first down throw when it’s third and long? How often does he sustain drives and put points on the board? What kind of points is he getting… field goals or touchdowns? Does he make the players around him better players? Is he a winner?

I could go on and on with this subject but we don’t have the space. I hope this gives you some idea of what it takes to scout quarterbacks for today’s NFL.

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